Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A leap of faith

Posting our stories on our blogs is taking a big leap of faith. We trust that whether our readers love or loathe our writing, they will respect the author for putting it 'out there' for the greater good.

What we don't expect is for someone to steal it.

Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous bastards out there. Here's one of them, exposed by a very good and diligent writer. Richard Ridyard, reap what you sow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#fridayflash: Book Club

By Lily Mulholland

Fran ran her white-gloved right hand along the smooth spine of the book she held carefully in her left. She couldn’t believe she was holding a very rare first edition imprint of a Henry James. She loved his work and had coveted The Two Magics but knew she couldn’t afford the asking price for a first.

‘May I open it?’ she asked its owner.

‘If you wish. My interest is in the covers. I don’t much care for the contents.’

Fran paused for a moment, taking in the man’s expression. He was looking at her quite strangely, with a faraway look in his eyes. She remembered to keep her face impassive, recalling the feedback she’d had at work recently. They’d had to undergo the torturous process of a three-sixty degree review and several of her co-workers at the library had commented – anonymously of course – that they felt Fran looked down on them. That she often wore a look of contempt on her face when they were talking to her. Fran’s cheeks burned with embarrassment at the recollection. She didn’t think badly of her colleagues. She just often couldn’t hear them properly and had to concentrate extra hard to understand what they were saying.

When she realised she was blushing, she felt even more uncomfortable, knowing the man would think she was blushing because of what he’d said to her.

‘Get a grip, Fran.’ And now she was talking to herself. And all the while the man was watching her. She carefully opened the book and quickly read a few lines of her favourite James story, The Turn of the Screw. She closed the book and placed it carefully back on the stand.

‘It’s in wonderful condition,’ she said to the man, avoiding his inscrutable gaze, as she removed the cotton gloves.

‘To the untrained eye, perhaps. When I purchased it the cover had been water damaged. If you look closely you will see that the leather is perishing and beyond repair. Refinishing my collection is my greatest passion.’

At the word ‘passion’ Fran looked up at the man. His face had taken on a different appearance. A new visage. He looked entirely different. Younger.

‘Would you like to see some of the other books I’ve refinished?’

‘Oh, yes please.’

He beckoned to her to follow. She did as she was bid and walked through a series of interconnected rooms. Her eyes opened wider as she was transported through each room, for every wall was lined floor to ceiling with shelving – each filled with books. When they reached the farthest room, Fran gasped audibly. Before was a room whose four walls were full of rare books, each covered in creamy leather embossed with gold. The effect was almost overwhelming.

The man turned and looked at her.

‘You have a good appreciation of beauty. These books form the heart of my collection. I keep them in this special room which was built especially to house them. It is climate controlled, moisture controlled and sound proofed.’

‘Sound proofed?’ Fran thought to herself.

‘I like to read in peace. I do not like interruptions,’ he said.

It was as though the man could read her mind. A chill ran from her head to her toes and back again.

‘Are you cold, my dear?’ asked the man.

‘A little.’

‘Come, let us have something to drink and get down to business.’

‘When will the others be here?’

‘Others?’ His response to her question trailed off as he led the way back through the series of rooms and down the stairs to what she supposed would be called the parlour. It was that kind of house.

‘Here, have a sherry.’ The man offered a small cut crystal glass to Fran which she took obediently.

‘And you must try this panforte. I had it imported from Siena. I discovered it on one of my book buying visits.’ Again, Fran took the plate that was offered to her without demurring. He spoke with an authority she did not question.

‘So,’ she tried again, ‘Who else is coming this evening?’

‘Who else?’

‘Yes,’ she said, a whisper of exasperation entwining itself around her words, ‘to the book club meeting?’

‘You’re it, my dear.’

‘Oh. I thought...’

‘Drink your sherry.’

Fran was starting to feel a little light-headed. ‘I really don’t think I should.’

‘Drink.’ It was more a command than an entreaty.

‘I don’t ...’ Fran’s voice faded as she slumped back in the couch, her plate and glass tumbling towards the hand-cut silk rug that spread across the room like freshly spilled blood.


Fran awoke. She was cold. She tried to move but her head felt heavy and her body was leaden. Unconsciousness reclaimed her.


‘And now, my dear, let us get down to business.’

Vincent turned the girl over onto her back and slit her shirt open from hem to neck. He parted the fabric and ran his hand over the skin of the girl’s ample back. He was pleased. The girl’s back was unblemished. He had chosen wisely, a librarian devoting her life to books and reading. No freckled flesh, no tattoos. Young women these days were often disappointing.

Holding his scalpel aloft for a moment, Vincent took the time to ensure he made his first incision in exactly the right place. The new leather for his precious Joyce had to be absolutely perfect.

Friday, September 18, 2009

#fridayflash: No Sanctuary

By Lily Mulholland

‘Is the padre here?’ I ask.

The old man nods.

‘Can we see him?’

We landed on Suai beach yesterday to find a gutted village. Only one or two buildings still had a roof, many were burnt to their foundation. Now we were looking for the priest, hoping he’d speak enough English to tell us what had happened.

The man leads us across the busted concrete quadrangle that runs adjacent to the cathedral. The building wears the unmistakable imprint of war. Bullet holes puncture the facade in a poor man’s filigree. The charred remains of the doors swing from their hinges. Chunks of masonry are missing. Of the congregation there is barely a trace.

Stooped and bent, the man takes us past the cathedral entrance and down its far side to the original church. Its walls look like the jagged teeth of a dinosaur, the frame like the ribcage of a rotting whale. The roof has been torched. Outside the small church three timeworn women are singing a dirge in low but strong voices. They do not look up at our approach.

‘Estes soldados querem ver o padre,’ says our guide. One of the women acknowledges the man and stands slowly while the others continue singing. The woman looks at us, turns and enters the burnt out shell. We follow her and I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in protest. Fingering the trigger of my Steyr, I step through the charcoal doorframe, followed by Sal, my cameraman, and Bob, who is doing audio.

The woman stands in front of large piles of debris that litters the building’s floor.

‘Está aqui,’ she says. She points to a mound at her feet. I look and see human bones, ash, burnt timber and other detritus.

‘Militia?’ I ask.

‘Sim, a milícia disparou no padre,’ she answers. The militia had killed the padre.

‘Obrigada senhora.’ I thank her and motion for Sal and Bob to follow me back outside.

‘Do you want any of this on film boss?’ asks Sal.

‘No, we’ll leave it for the news crews – they’ll get here this arvo if the intel’s right. Let’s get back to HQ and see the int guys. I reckon the special ops guys went through here too fast to get this level of detail.’

I don't mention this is an international media story waiting to happen. More evidence that the Indonesian-backed militia were ruthless in their killing spree. Not what the fledgling peace process needs. We have a matter of hours before this story hits the wires.

We nod to the old fella and start heading back on foot to HQ, just up the main road in what had been the Indonesian-run court house. We don't get far before we notice a young man watching us from the trees beyond the church compound. We head over to where the guy is squatting.

‘Bom dia. Você fala o Inglês?’ Right now I’m glad I’d memorised the basics from the Portuguese conversation guides thrust at us on our way out of Australia. No doubt my accent stinks, but the East Timorese seem to get the gist of what I am saying.

‘Yes, speak English senhora.’

‘You want to tell us something?’

‘Sim. Have you in catedral?’ he asks.

I shake my head.

‘Yes. Need you see,’ he says as he stands up. ‘Come.’

We follow the man back toward the cathedral. My neck hairs are dancing again. I signal the boys to look lively as we enter through the broken doors, wondering what the hell we are going to see. We’ve already found a dead priest.

Once inside, it became clear why the building appeared so war-ravaged from outside. It wasn’t finished. What looked like explosives damage was incomplete masonry. Rudely constructed bamboo scaffolding sections the nave, with platforms of varying heights blocking the apse from view.

The man hovers at the base of a bamboo tower, looking pale, ghostly. I look at him and, though he says nothing, his eyes travel upwards, along the line of scaffold. My eyes follow and, as I become used to the dim light, I make out a dribble line of what looks like dried paint coming from one of the platforms. I check out the other towers and they too are painted red. I realise it isn’t paint, but blood. Lots of it.

‘How many?’

‘Fifty, senhora.’ My guts drop.

‘Who killed them?’

‘Militia. Found them in church, hiding. Santuário,’ he says, tears tracing rivers down his cheeks.

‘They were seeking sanctuary?’

‘Sim senhora.’ This wasn’t a fight. It was slaughter.

‘Where are the bodies?’

He crosses himself at this question. I know it was blunt, but I had to get answers and fast. We are overdue. They’ll be prepping a search team back at brigade headquarters and the last thing I want is for my guys to cop the embarrassment of being ‘rescued’.

‘Militia took them. Burned them.’

‘In the church?’


I thank him and we walk out blinking into the sunlight. Bob and Sal don’t speak as we head back. I understand. Families who’d been living next door to each other for generations had turned upon each other. How could the East Timorese coexist peacefully after this? While our peacemaking force has brought an end to the killing, it can’t resolve the real issues. The Indonesians were gone, but they made sure all they left behind was a divided people.

As we pass the HQ perimeter guards, a boy, no more than eight years old, calls out to me.

‘Hello missus! Lolly?’

I toss him a muesli bar. It isn’t what he wants but it won’t rot his teeth either. He grins and gives me a cheeky wave.

‘Tankoo missus!’

I smile. After all that has happened around him he can still laugh. Can that be enough?


This story is based loosely on memories of my time in East Timor in 1999. You can read about the fact behind the fiction here and here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning the craft: short story workshop

I had a fabulous couple of hours out of the house sans children yesterday, attending my first writing workshop. Hosted by the ACT Writers Centre, the short story workshop was run by Australian author Craig Cormick, who took us through what elements constitute great short stories. He also talked about the difference between stories that win competitions and those that are published by literary magazines and journals. He had some great writing exercises for us to do, as well as some excellent examples of short stories that exemplified the points he was making. I think all participants got something out of the workshop - I certainly did. I look forward to putting some of what I learned into practice. I have no doubt it will make my writing stronger and more real.
Something else that will help me learn the craft is the Sleepers Almanac. Or almanacs, as I ordered not only the current edition from Sleepers Publishing, but also the previous three editions. The almanac is an anthology of emerging Australian writing talent. I know what I'll be reading for the foreseeable future! I just have to remember to read as a writer as well as a reader :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

#fridayflash: The Waiting Game

By Lily Mulholland

Ellen felt ridiculous worrying about her crowning glory. She had only just started to like her hair, which was silver with blonde streaks and had somehow lost its irrational kinks as she’d mellowed into her early 60s. Now she was fretting about the possibility of it falling out. Not strand by strand as it had after her three pregnancies, but in large, undignified, unstoppable chunks.

It had all started with a visit to the blood bank. Being a good nurse, she knew how important it was to give blood and had only missed one or two appointments over the past thirty years. She’d left home in plenty of time to make the drive across town, circled the block only four times looking for a spot, parked the car and walked back up the street to the donation centre. Ellen sat in line, moving up the plastic chair snake as it came closer to her turn. Having already filled out the paperwork, she had a magazine ready to go as soon as she could be seated comfortably in the blood donation chair.

Before she could get comfortable her haemoglobin levels had to be checked by a nurse in one of the interview booths. ‘Just a little prick’, Ellen said to herself out of habit – it had been one of her well-worn nursing jokes – as the lancet was pushed into her finger and a solitary drop of blood squeezed out onto the test strip. The nurse inserted the strip into the scanner and pushed the button. After a few seconds she pursed her lips and said with a slight frown, ‘Nope, you won’t be giving blood today Ellen – your Hb levels are too low.’

‘Oh blast,’ said Ellen, ‘I wonder what’s going on. My iron levels have been up and down over the years but my haemoglobin is usually fine.’

‘Best get yourself checked out by your GP, love. You want to nip any problems in the bud, eh?’

Ellen had taken herself into town to do a spot of shopping as consolation. After she’d worn herself out sufficiently she headed back home. She made an appointment with her doctor for two days’ time.

‘I’m sure it’s nothing,’ Ellen said to the doctor as she sat down in his office. ‘But I guess I’m getting to the age where bits start to fall off, so I thought I’d better come and see you anyway.’

Dr Martens raised an eyebrow at Ellen. He’d been Ellen’s doctor for at least twenty years and knew she didn’t make frivolous appointments.

‘Good idea. I don’t like the sound of your haemoglobin levels, so I’m sending you off for some blood tests confirm the reading. Also, we might as well check your iron levels while you’re there. Now, depending on how the results look, I think we’ll be sending you off for a gastroscopy and endoscopy just to check things out.’

Ellen grimaced. She knew this meant a general anaesthetic and a camera up/down each end. ‘Hopefully not simultaneously,’ she thought.

The tests had come back. While Ellen’s Hb reading was slightly low, her iron levels were well below normal. She’d made a booking for the procedures at a local clinic, pleased that she didn’t have to go into hospital. She didn’t like hospitals much – she knew she’d spend the whole time scrutinising the old equipment, harried staff and peeling paint on the walls knowing that nothing much had changed in the ten years since she’d given up nursing.

When she’d awoken and recovered – proud of her body’s ability to bounce back from surgery so quickly – the specialist had come to see her and tell her the news.

‘We found a lump I’m afraid. In your upper right quadrant, just under you ribcage.’

Ellen heard the words ‘lump’ and ‘afraid’.

‘How big?’

‘About the size of twenty cent piece. We can’t tell if it’s benign or malignant, so we’ve taken a sample and have sent it off to pathology for testing.’

‘Oh,’ mouthed Ellen.

‘You’ll need to have a CAT scan tomorrow just to see if there are any other problems, and then you’ll need to see a surgeon.’

‘Oh,’ said Ellen again. She somehow remembered to speak. ‘Thanks.’ She had nursed oncology patients.

Her husband arrived shortly after the specialist had moved onto the next patient. Russell listened with a worried face as Ellen relayed the conversation with as little emotion as she could. Ellen placed her hand on his and told him not to worry.

‘There’s no point in worrying until we have the test results. We’ll listen to what the oncologist tells us and, whatever happens, we’ll work through it.’

Ellen was glad she was made of tough stuff. Every time her mind started reeling, she told herself to get a grip. ‘I will not worry until there’s something to worry about.’

After Russell had taken her home, Ellen took a gin and tonic into the sunroom along with the phone. She rang each of her children and told them the news. She felt like she was describing events happening to someone else, but knew she couldn’t stay in denial forever. Come Monday, she’d know either way: benign or malignant. Single or spread. She took another sip and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as it bathed her body in light.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Short story submitted - 'The Dan experience'

I've submitted a second, longer piece for possible publication in the forthcoming Eve's Harvest anthology, to be published by Lip Magazine. The theme for the anthology is 'one'. 'The Dan experience' is about the disappointing emptiness of first love.

Submissions are being accepted via email or through WEbook. As I posted mine to WEbook, it's available for your reading pleasure here. You can also leave feedback. It's a bit scary submitting material that exposes bits of yourself, don't you think?